Contested evangelical identity

What does evangelical mean? Everybody uses the word casually, implying that we all have an agreed definition in mind.

In fact, the definition of evangelical varies widely. It depends on who one asks and what considerations are brought within the scope of the definition.

Consideration Source and
The cross From the Welcome page of the Evangelical Theological Society:
“We are, first of all, Evangelical — that is we subscribe to the Good News of Salvation as a free gift of God through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross.”
The Bible At the founding of the ETS in 1949 (from the Purpose page of the above site):
“The one matter which all delegates considered of supreme importance [was] the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Hence, the creedal statement was narrowed to a single fundamental: ‘The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs’.”
Deity of Christ,
from eternity
From the ETS site, Doctrinal Basis page:
“God is a Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, each an uncreated person, one in essence, equal in power and glory.”
Virgin birth Mainstream evangelicalism:
Virgin birth historical
Bodily resurrection Mainstream evangelicalism:
Bodily resurrection historical
All five issues above reconsidered What passes for evangelical in the theological academy:

  • May entertain the hope that God’s mercy extends to adherents of other faiths;
  • Bible authoritative, not necessarily inerrant;
  • wider latitude on how one conceptualizes Christ’s deity;
  • virgin birth and bodily resurrection open to discussion
Mores Mainstream evangelicalism:
Homosexual marriage, abortion, stem cell research, serial monogamy, etc. regarded as social evils
Mores reconsidered Younger mainstream evangelicals:
My perception (which may be inaccurate) is that the generation of evangelicals now coming of age are softer in their views on homosexuality, abortion, and sexual mores in general
Politics Popular American evangelical view:
Support for Iraq war, use of torture on suspected terrorists, the “right” to bear arms, a blurring of the dividing line between church and state, etc.
Higher education, science Popular American evangelical view:
Secular university education viewed with suspicion; active opposition to the teaching of evolution

In the last two rows, I make reference to “popular American” evangelicalism. I must add, the popular American view is not representative:  either of American evangelical scholarship, or of popular evangelicalism in other parts of the Western world.

Personally, I have been described as a liberal who preserves certain evangelical habits of mind:  and that description suits me just fine.

(Further discussion of evangelical identity at Jesus Creed, where Scott McKnight argues that evangelicals “are a product of the creeds. Evangelical Christology is Nicean and Chalcedonian in essence (no pun intended).”

Also at Alastair Adversaria, who is scathing about what evangelical has come to signify.)

copyright © 2006, Stephen


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